The busier you get, the more likely you need something more powerful than a to-do list. Built on the knowledge and experience of others, I developed a simple, easy-to-use task and project management system suitable both for individuals and teams using Trello, a web-based platform.
After reading up on the subject of time, task, and project management and trying a few methods, I developed a narrow list of principles I use in managing tasks and projects either on a solo or team basis.
- Record everything: Get everything out of your head. It’s like RAM in a computer. If not saved where it can be available offline (in this case, in writing), then it takes up active memory space – brain/computing power you won’t have available for other tasks.
- Review regularly: Once a day I review and reorganize the more pressing lists (Waiting and Today, see below for more information), and once a week the less pressing lists (Soon and Future).
- Work from the lists: Of course, emergencies will arise, and I have to be ready to set aside everything. In all other cases, tasks go in the list and I work according to the list.
- Can always come back: Even if I fall off the wagon every once in a while, I can always come back, freshen up my lists, and start again.
Sign Up for Trello
Trello is a freemium web-based task and project management system. To sign up for Trello, visit Trello.com or use my affinity link: https://trello.com/yehoshuaoz/recommend.
The Structure of Trello
Boards (1) hold Lists (2) which contain Cards (3), which themselves may contain Checklists. Individual Cards can be moved from List to List and even Board to Board.
Cards themselves may be labelled with colors, which can serve as an additional way to visually differentiate.
Think of a Board as a big bulletin board you might put up. I have one Board for myself at work (and another for personal items). In addition, I have a Board for each employee. (If I had employees which had the same, overlapping, or similar responsibilities, I might have them share a Board.)
For Boards you share with employees and others, it is important that you Follow the Board. Then, you will be notified when others make changes.
Summary: Assuming tasks can only be handled by a specific person, Boards are per person.
I try to keep things as simple as possible. Rarely is the type of task (e.g., finance, PR, IT) or specific project (e.g., Annual Conference, monthly financial reports) the most important factor in prioritizing and organizing tasks. To keep things as simple as possible, one consistent, easy-to-understand factor should be the differentiator between Lists. In my opinion, the relative urgency of the task is the most important consideration.
The lists I use are Waiting, Today, Soon, and Future. There is one extra list I use for employees: Completed. Each of these lists represents a different status.
- Waiting – Tasks which I am waiting for input or action from others
- Today – Tasks which must be completed today
- Soon – Tasks which should be handled soon
- Future – Things to handle sometime in the future, listed here to get them out of mental RAM
- Completed – Used by employees to hold tasks which have been completed, which are reviewed and archived
Summary: Lists reflect time priorities.
Cards contain a task, a specific action or series of actions that can be taken. For example, a Card might contain a specific task such as “Contact printer about unpaid invoices.”
Or a Card might contain a series of actions that are like dominoes: they must be done sequentially or close to it. For example, a Card might be titled “Arrange staff meeting” while containing a Checklist with a number of tasks such as “Find a time with staff,” “Reserve room,” “Order food,” and “Send calendar invite.” It makes sense to have these tasks as items in a Checklist on a single Card as you need to know when the staff are available before reserving a room, you need to know how many people are coming before ordering food, and you need to know who is coming and where the meeting is before sending a calendar invite.
Summary: Cards hold individual tasks or groups of tasks which are interdependent.
Using Trello On a Solo Basis
I add, move, edit, and archive Cards as I need to. When planning for a trip has been suddenly delayed, I move the “Schedule trip” Card from Today to Waiting. When I complete “Staff meeting follow-up,” I archive it. When I want to remember to “Plan senior leadership retreat” but not deal with it anytime soon, I add a Card to Future.
Using Trello With Employees
I invite each employee to his Board.
When working, employees should…
- Work in order: Employees should work in order of the Cards on their Lists.
- Add Cards when needed: When new tasks come in that a supervisor might not be aware of, an employee should add a Card. This keeps all parties informed about what the employee is working on and his priorities.
- Move Cards as work progresses: When Cards change status, an employee should move Cards from List to List. For example, when an employee “Contact[ed] printer about unpaid invoices,” he should move the Card to the Completed List.
- Briefly communicate in Cards: Employees can also ask questions or provide brief updates by leaving a Comment inside the Card. I would recommend using face-to-face, phone, or other direct communication for substantial discussions.
- Never archive; only move to Completed: As written above, when I complete a task, I archive the relevant Card. Employees shouldn’t be archiving, as it is easy to lose track in the notifications and I won’t see a visible change when I check the Board. Instead, employees should move the Card to the Completed list. When I have reviewed what has been completed, I archive the Card.
If it’s helpful, you can add colored labels. Labels can add an extra dimension for categorizing Cards. I have used them to denote which Cards belong to which project or department.
If you use Trello for task and project management, please share your experience and lessons learned in the comments.
Note that my own system borrows heavily from many others, including David Allen’s Getting Things Done.